The challenge: Carolyn Colebeck, 18, was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. The main bathroom in her family’s South St. Paul home was not handicap-accessible. Carolyn had to have help from family members whenever she needed to use the bathroom or wanted to take a shower. “Shower transferring was hard,” she said.
The opportunity: Carolyn, who has endured 30-plus surgeries, including back and brain operations, was brought to the attention of Make-A-Wish Minnesota. “They came out and interviewed her,” said her mother, Suzy Colebeck. What Carolyn wanted most, she told the wish-granting nonprofit, was a bathroom she could use by herself. “We were surprised,” said Suzy. It was an unusual request, but not unprecedented, said Mia Broos Hoagberg, CEO of Make-A-Wish Minnesota. “Most [recipients] wish to travel, but a few [wishes] are construction-related, and all are very personal. Carolyn is at an age where you sure don’t want Mom and Dad helping you shower.”
Making it happen: Make-A-Wish contributed $10,000 to help make Carolyn’s dream a reality. After a contractor offered to do the work but didn’t follow through, Make-A-Wish Minnesota contacted Murphy Bros. Design Build Remodel in Blaine. “What higher calling is there than the chance to make a life-changing difference in someone’s life?” said John Murphy, owner and president of the firm. Nadia Glynn, a Murphy Bros. design consultant, “jumped at the chance” to design a new bathroom for Carolyn. She bonded quickly with the family, which includes Carolyn’s dad, Kyle Colebeck, and her two younger siblings. “Like any teen she wants to be independent,” Glynn said. But the $10,000 budget was not enough to cover all the changes Carolyn needed to have made. “Unfortunately, a bathroom remodel costs double that,” Glynn said. “I didn’t want to give someone half a bathroom, so I took it upon myself to recruit our trade partners.” Suppliers and subcontractors pitched in to make Carolyn’s project happen. “Almost everybody came to bat,” Glynn said.
Little changes, big impact: It wasn’t possible to give Carolyn a completely ADA-compliant bathroom, Glynn said, “but we could do little things” that made a big difference. “Her biggest challenge was getting from vanity to toilet to tub.” To that end, the doorway to the bathroom was widened from 32 inches to 36 inches, and the standard door was replaced with a pocket door, giving Carolyn a 5-foot circle for turning her wheelchair. The team added a comfort-height toilet for ease of use, a more accessible vanity, grab bars for the toilet and shower, and new shower with a flip-up bench, handheld showerhead and hooks for hanging necessary medical accessories. Built-in storage was added to give Carolyn places to put her supplies. The vinyl flooring, an acrylic wall unit and chrome fixtures were chosen to be low-maintenance, in light neutral colors. “We wanted to keep it as neutral and simple as possible, so it can grow with them,” said Glynn.
Fast-track schedule: Once the design was finalized, the project proceeded briskly. “They did it really fast,” Suzy Colebeck said. “It would normally take months, and they did it in a week.”
The result: Carolyn recently graduated from high school and is attending a program to learn life skills. In the meantime, she can use the bathroom without having to wait for one of her parents or younger siblings to help her.
The whole family has benefited, Suzy said. Carolyn’s 12-year-old sister was the person who generally helped Carolyn in the bathroom when one of her parents couldn’t, “so it’s a big deal to her, as well.” Suzy added, “It gives us freedom — and Carolyn independence.”
You can help: Make-A-Wish Minnesota is always seeking money and in-kind donations, such as airline miles, to help fulfill life-changing wishes for children and youths facing critical illnesses. Having a wish granted can even aid recovery, CEO Hoagberg said. “It gives kids hope, that ‘Somebody cares about me.’ ” For more information, visit mn.wish.org.